Dancing With Uncertainty

by | Process

One force that’s ever-present in any form of creative work is uncertainty. The reality is that you will never know – really know – what’s right.

Is this good enough?
Is it finished?
Is it the right strategy?
How should I spend my time/focus/energy today?
Which idea should I run with?
How can I sell this to my manager?

Uncertainty is an uncooperative dance partner. You have to move with it – in concert, drawing from it, following its lead at times, but always with an eye on your next move – in order to do your best work. The worst thing you can do is allow uncertainty to paralyze you into inaction. (I had a good conversation with Jonathan Fields about this.)

In the face of uncertainty, pursue clarity. Do you know what you’re really trying to do? Have you firmed up your objectives? Do you really understand the problem? When dealing with uncertainty about some things, seek clarity in the things you can know. Additionally, if you lead a team, your job is to pursue increasing levels of clarity in the face of increasing levels of uncertainty. Your team needs to know what you expect of them, even if you’re not certain it’s the right thing.

Get real about the stakes. When facing uncertainty, you might start fearing “monsters in the closet”. Your fear of the unknown spirals out of control, creates artificial stakes, and causes you to freeze. Spend some time grounding yourself in the true stakes rather than allowing your imagination to go wild.

Stay attuned to your intuition. When things get messy, it’s tempting to ignore that small, quiet voice in your head out of fear that it might lead you into even more uncertainty. However, that’s the worst thing you can do. Pay attention to the places your mind naturally goes. It’s wired to resolve dissonance and identify patterns, and could be providing you with a path through the uncertainty.

You will never rid yourself of uncertainty. It’s a part of the game. When the sand is shifting beneath your feet, try to find some solid ground. Seek clarity. You’ll often find that simply getting clear relieves some of the pressure and illuminates your next steps.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.


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